Face Time: Ayumi Horie — L-A native, world pottery artist

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Twin Cities native Ayumi Horie has been around the world sharing her artistry and expertise in pottery. She was recently awarded a $50,000 Distinguished Fellow grant from the United States Artists; given to the most accomplished and innovative artists in their field, only three other Mainers have received the award.

Horie, who now lives in Portland, cites her upbringing in L-A as a fundamental influence on her work, outlook on life and use of art to bring people together.

You’re very accomplished and known worldwide for your art and pottery. What started it all? I think growing up in Lewiston-Auburn primed me for understanding that the things that are important in life are good food, family and friends. Learning these values early on from my own family and from the Franco-American culture around me, I’ve become the kind of artist that wants to take part in daily life. Making pots is about making objects that can draw people together over the dinner table through good food and conversation. Every cup tells a story and holds a memory, so every morning I always make a choice about which maker friend to have coffee with that day. It’s the day-to-day experience that matters to me as a potter, something I learned growing up in a hard-working community. I think pottery has at its core good food, family and friends.

How else did Lewiston-Auburn and your upbringing here influence you? We lived in town in Lewiston until I was 8 and then moved to the country in Auburn. After we moved to Auburn, it was easier for the family to have a garden for Japanese vegetables and to fish in the lake. Just like old-time Mainers, my family had a sense of self-sufficiency and an appreciation of how to cultivate nature. Apart from my mother, who grew up in Lewiston, my extended household was first-generation Japanese immigrants. While earlier generations of immigrants may have felt pressure to force their kids to speak English at home, we all spoke Japanese and there was a concerted effort to keep language and traditions alive. I saw the culture of Lewiston-Auburn through a Japanese lens and vice versa. The content of my work now is a mash up of cultures. It often references Japanese culture, but the random bits of visual culture I saw growing up have also influenced my work, like the translucence of ribbon candy at Christmas, the massiveness of the mills and the snow sculptures on Frye Street made by the students at Bates.

What inspires each new piece you do, each new direction you take in your craft? Essentially, what is it about pottery? The newest and most divergent direction I’ve taken in ceramics is a collaborative public art project I’ve been working on for the last two years in the India Street neighborhood of Portland called Portland Brick. My collaborator, Elise Pepple, has collected past, present and future memories that I’m stamping into local clay to create bricks to repair city sidewalks with their own stories. It’s an anti-monumental monument to everyday people in Portland, not just the famous sea captains. Just as pottery is a medium that connects people through both function and narrative, Portland Brick is a project that aims to connect and create community.

In a similar vein, I began an Instagram feed last spring called Pots In Action that curates weekly themes within ceramics. Thousands of people from all over the world, both makers and non-makers, participate, creating incredible global connections between people and building new audiences for potters and ceramic artists.

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Would you recommend making a living as an artist in Maine? Yes, well, there’s nothing like being your own boss and I will also qualify it by saying that like anywhere, it takes a lot of hard work. The marketplace is changing quickly and it’s almost impossible to rely solely on local customers. In order to compete, independent studio artists now need to be able to use social media effectively and to have a decent online presence. The great news is that Maine’s strong craft tradition has cachet that is famous world-wide, so that advertising that (your) work is made in Maine creates even more value.

You’ve received significant awards and grants, taught and held significant residencies here and abroad, coordinated major fundraisers based on your work. What are you most proud of? By far, I’m most proud of Handmade For Japan, the fundraiser I co-organized with Kathryn Pombriant Manzella, my friend from fourth grade at C.P. Wight (School in Auburn), and Ai Kanazawa. Kathryn and Ai brought a deep knowledge of Japanese craft and public relations savvy to our project, helping raise over $100,000 for disaster relief in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

You must have special pieces of your work that you keep in your home or a safe place. Or maybe you gave to someone. What’s your favorite or a favorite? I don’t have a real attachment to my work, so I don’t have much around, unless it was part of a collaboration. There’s a large platter in my living room from a collaborative show with Andy Brayman about the quadracentennial of New York City. It’s shaped like a city block and has a chickadee on it, which is a bird that would have been plentiful in that area 400 years ago, when New York was founded by white settlers. I saved that piece because of the Maine chickadee connection and the fact that the platter could never be made again.

Finish this sentence: “When I come up to L-A, I always make sure to . . .” have root beer at Val’s Drive-In, a ham Italian at Sam’s, ice cream at Taber’s and get my car washed at Yvon’s, but maybe not all on the same day!

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